Esperanza Spalding @ Gesu – Centre de Creativite, Montreal 7/2/09

Posted: July 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Music Review | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

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Day 3 of my jazz week, and I get a second chance at seeing Esperanza Spalding here in Montreal, at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

This time, without a thunderstorm overhead, I am able to fully engage and immerse myself in the music and experience that is, Esperanza.

Esperanza played a balanced mix of songs from her previous two albums and many new songs we can expect will likely show up on her upcoming album (which is supposed to be a hommage to Nina Simone). I had a smile on my face the entire performance. I couldn’t wipe it off even if I tried. I was head-boppin’, foot-stompin’ all the way through.

A few thought-provoking ideas went through my head as I was enjoying the concert:

1) You’re only as good as the musicans you play with:
Esperanza played with a stellar, yet young group including Otis Brown (bass), Ricardo Roach (guitar), Geonese (?) (piano). Keep an eye out for any and all of these musicians, as I am very sure they will all lead very successful and distinguished careers as the leaders of their own jazz groups. With the type of music that Esperanza and many of the younger groups are playing, they require each musician in the group to be fully adaptable and possess many different musical specialties.

2) A glimpse into the New Contemp Jazz direction:
Esperanza is not the only artist playing multiple styles fusion. But different from the type of fusion Miles Davis pioneered (Fusion with instrument, sounds and a heavy influence from the then fresh avant garde/free jazz movement) The new fusion is about fusing different styles of popular music genres into Jazz: Rock-Jazz, Soul-Jazz, Trip hop-Jazz, R&B-Jazz, Hip Hop-Jazz. The contemporary jazz musician like Esperanza (an like Christian Scott or The Bad Plus) are arranging each song as it should be arranged, whether it is a Jazz rhythm line supporting a pop song, or a jazz song in a the context of rock.

2a) Successful players must be masters at a multiple number of different genres:
What this means for all contemporary musicians and those up & coming, is that if these advancing artists are constructing this paradigm, all subsequent jazz musicians will need to master not only jazz, but a number of other genres as well. We will see not only specialists in one instrument or style in Jazz, we will see more musicians who will be specialists in multiple genres to master New Jazz Fusion.

2b) Each song is a different kind of fusion:
No longer will a full album be made to reinforce one jazz genre. As we saw in Esperanza’s second album which had three distinct types of fusion equally represented throughout the album, we’re going to see more musicians have consecutive songs distinctly different from one another. It may alienate some listeners, especially those that only like one kind of style/genre/fusion.
But this type of each-song-stands-on-its-own album fits into the iTunes-style of music selling: Now that music listeners & buyers are purchasing each song at a time, and less and less purchasing whole albums, it allows a listener to choose the type of fusions that are most appealing to them from that one particular artist.

Esperanza’s first album set a foundation that established her firmly as a young-rising talented artist in the jazz arena. Album two threw together a few different styles Esperanza could do to show her verasity. It also helped the record label learn more about which styles are most commercially viable. Now with sneak peeks at some new songs, we have an idea where her next album is going: further into fusion: soul, rock, world-music into jazz.

Esperanza’s show illicited continuous standing ovations from the audience, resulting in two encores.

In the subsequent days after Esperanza’s performance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, I saw and read a number of very strong and positive reviews from her performance. But I think the clearest indicator of how successful her performance at the jazz fest was the fact that all of her cds were sold out in every single music store I could find (and I went to all of the stores, my friend wanted to buy the album but we couldn’t find it anywhere).

Bravo to Esperanza Spalding! The highlight of my few days at this year’s Montreal International Jazz Fest.


Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow & Antonio Sanchez @ The Four Seasons Centre, Toronto 6/29/09

Posted: July 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Music Review | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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Day 1 of my week of jazz, and I kick it off with a big bang with a revisit to one of the most influential and profound jazz groups that shaped the path of contemporary Jazz.  Gary Burton is reunited with Pat Metheny, along with Burton’s long-time musical companion, Steve Swallow, and newer addition, Antonio Sanchez, who is a regular in Pat Metheny’s current quartet.

The concert and the album are entitled “Revisited” alluding to the period and songs in the early 70′s that first introduced us to a young Pat Metheny when he then joined the Gary Burton Quartet.

The concert in Toronto on June 29th was as what all jazz fanatics could hope for: a packed house, an awesome acoustically-inclined music hall, and four of the most talented musicians around.

Gary Burton played as masterfully as ever.  I had seen him play once before at the Toronto Jazz Fest in 2005 when he performed his “Next Generation” tour alongside the then emerging Julian Lage.  I can never get over the intricacies of his four mallets as they move across the vibraphone keys.  The double mallets in each hand are mesmerizing to watch, especially if you notice the subtle way Burton changes the distance between the two mallets in each hands to produce different sets of chords & harmonics.  I am utterly amazed at his speed, and it is obvious he’s perfected his muscle memory in the 40 years he has played.

Pat Metheny continues to be at the top of his game.  He played four different guitars that night, including his 42-string Pikassa guitar.  As we all are so well familiar with Pat’s legendary style, I won’t say too much, though it is always the greatest pleasure when I get a chance to watch him perform life.

More posts coming on this week as I travel from Toronto to Ottawa to Montreal and back to Toronto again following all three international jazz festivals.

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Music Review: Roy Hargrove “Earfood”

Posted: February 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Kev's Music Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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Roy Hargrove is continually one of my most favourite jazz artists. Among the original ranks of those titled the “Young Lions of Jazz” in the late 80′s and early 90′s, Roy Hargrove has, from his late teens, had high expectations cast upon him.  (Just as reference, other original ‘Young Lions’ include Stephen Scott, Marcus Roberts, Delfeayo Marsalis, Joey DeFrancesco and Joshua Redman to name a few).

Hargrove has not dissapointed since finishing his musical studies at Berklee and New York’s The New School.  In the last 20 years he has come out with 17 albums which either bare his name or he was the band leader. Looking up his Wikipedia page, I notice he turns 40 this year.  And he is still considered not yet at his prime.  Ahh the refreshing expectations of refined excellence from the Jazz world.

383081-471013hardgrooveroy-hargrove-nothing-seriousI first got acquainted with Roy Hargrove in the late 90′s with some live performance recordings, but he came onto my map in a very big way after his alternative band The RH Factor‘s first release ‘Hard Groove’ in 2003, and then subsequent releases ‘Strength’ (2004) and ‘Distractions’ (2006).  Since that time, I’ve been following all of Roy’s releases with great interest.  I had the pleasure of watching  Roy perform alongside Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker in Hong Kong in 2003 for Hancock’s ‘Directions in Music‘ album tour.  Then I saw Roy again in 2007 at the Toronto International Jazz Festival for his ‘Nothing Serious‘ album.

Needless to say I came upon Hargrove’s 2008 album ‘Earfood’ with great anticipation.

The album was hit-and-miss for me.  Maybe because I’ve become so familiar with Roy Hargrove’s sound and style, that half of the songs on this album slipped through my eardrums without registering much of any kind of impression.

The first two songs on ‘Earfood’ seem like pointless preamble.  He takes two whole songs to set the tone of the album, like a maitre d’ taking an unnecessary amount of time settling you into a comfortable chair.  Instead, most people who have ever heard a Roy Hargrove song before already know what kind of sound to expect, and so spending two songs re-educating us on something we already know is a waste of time.

The songs that I did sit up and take notice to were: Strasbourg/St. Denis, Starmaker, The Stinger, Mr. Clean, Style, and Do Wisdom The Prize.  Thats 6 out of 13 songs on the album.

Not to say that other songs were unenjoyable, they were.  But those other songs are exactly what we’ve come to know and love from Roy Hargrove.  Each of the songs are a reenforcement of his brand and persona.  The slow, pulsating, intoxicating, smooth sounds of Hargrove’s flugelhorn and the tight assemblage of his band are well appreciated.  The problem I have with those other 7 songs is that they don’t offer anything new about Roy.

The 6 songs that I did find intriguing were worthy of mention only because Hargrove allowed his group to be more adventurous with the melody and its arrangement.  The use of alternative chords and sounds not normally found in Roy Hargrove’s music were refreshing.  It also should be noted that I found the musician that stole the show on the album was Justin Robinson on Alto Sax; not Hargrove himself.

miles-kind-of-blue-coverFor those that are not familiar with Roy Hargrove, he is perhaps the most accessible of contemporary Jazz’s authentic pioneers, meaning, his style of jazz can be understood or appreciated by the mainstream/non-jazz listener, while still being true to jazz’s form.  His music, as it is in this album and on all his albums of the last 10 years, is a modern return to Modal Jazz, the style of jazz made famous by Miles Davis and his ‘Kind of Blue‘ album.  Highly melodious, with a pulsing syncopation.

The result is highly pleasurable music, which I guess supports the aptly-named album title ‘Earfood’.

I however, have two bones to pick with my beloved Roy Hargrove, and both pertain to his branding.

The first issue of branding comes from Hargrove’s music.  While I understand that a musician, in the process of becoming better known and creating a following, should create a ‘brand’ of music he/she is known for, there is something to be said about growth, experimentation, maturity, and also the occasional change in musical direction.  Roy Hargrove is very obviously trying to walk in the footsteps of Miles Davis, but Hargrove has to realize that part of what made Miles Davis such a giant of jazz is not only that he is the highest-selling jazz musician of all time by popularizing modal jazz, but that Miles Davis had the courage, vision, and endurance to shift at 90 degree angles into different musical frontiers (Bebop to Modal to Fusion and back again.)  Roy Hargrove has turned heads with the progressive jazz-funk-soul-hiphop sounds of The RH Factor, but the question I come back to listening to ‘Earfood’ is, “Roy, where are you taking us with this?” I’m just hoping that Hargrove’s musical brand can be known as one of evolving and pioneering contemporary modal versus re-playing/maintaining a path of modal jazz we’ve gone through before.

The second issue about branding I have with Roy Hargrove deals with the visual aesthetic.  Again, very much trying to emulate Miles Davis in all things look & feel, Roy Hargrove is like the visual incarnation of the Miles Davis from the late 50′s and early 60′s.  I sometimes feel that Hargrove tries too hard, or spends too much of his attention on his and his band’s look rather than his and his band’s sound.  The thing with Jazz history is that it has been littered with numerous memorable personalities.  While many had aesthetic trademarks — a special beanie hat, square-rimmed glasses, a pair of sun glasses, etc. — there personalities were first known for the music, and not their eccentric looks.  And these musicians didn’t consciously choose to be characterized by a certain look.  They were too into their music to bother with thinking about trend-setting style.  The only jazz musician who really did fuss about his looks was Miles Davis.  Roy Hargrove is no Miles Davis yet.

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Miles Davis VS. Roy Hargrove

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The other thing is that Roy Hargrove is trying to play into his style, like the way he dresses and presents himself is a package with his kind of music.  As if everyone who listens to him should be the kind of ‘cool cat’ that always loves to wear grey suits and black narrow ties and fedoras.  Roy Hargrove is not only trying to brand himself and his music, he is trying to brand an entire genre of jazz.  Just stop it Roy.  Focus on the music and the rest will work itself out.

Well, ‘Earfood’ in its totality is a very listen-able album, and perhaps a cd I could give as a gift to a non-jazz listener.  But I hope Roy Hargrove’s next album will rise up to the standards that both him and I have set.

Watch Roy Hargrove perform one of the songs from ‘Earfood’ below!